Kings of clarity: the Equator Audio D5 speakers

The Audiophiliac checks out a $400 pair desktop pro monitors and comes away impressed!

Equator Audio D5 speaker. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Take a good look at the picture of the Equator D5 desktop speaker. Do you see anything unusual about its design? Where's the tweeter? Look closer, there it is -- right in the center of the woofer! The D5's "coaxial" driver combines the tweeter and woofer into a single driver, and that's really cool. Equator didn't invent this type of driver -- I've seen them before on various KEF and Tannoy speakers, but the D5 is, by far, the least expensive desktop speaker I've tested with a coaxial driver. So what's so great about coaxial drivers? Stereo imaging is more precise, because the bass, midrange, and treble frequencies are all coming from the same "point." That's especially important when you're sitting a few feet away from the speakers. Conventional speakers, with physically separate tweeters and woofers, are less likely to sound as clear. I'm referring to the D5s as desktop speakers, but others might see them as computer speakers. They're the same thing.

Equator Audio is a professional sound oriented company. It was founded in 2007 by Ted Keffalo, and it's based in San Diego, Calif. Equator's higher-end Q Series monitors have been used at Abbey Road, The Record Plant, and George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch.

RCA-to-1/4-inch plug cables required to hook up the D5 to a consumer desktop system Amazon

The D5 measures a compact 9.75x7x8.5 inches. The nine-pound speaker houses two 50-watt amps -- one for the 1-inch silk dome tweeter, one for the 5.25-inch polypropylene woofer -- and proprietary digital signal processing is used to match each production speaker's frequency response to Equator's reference standard.

The D5's rear panel connectivity suite includes XLR and TRS 1/4-inch jacks, but no RCA jacks; that's a common omission for a lot of pro monitors. Since most consumer gear uses RCA connectors, I bought a set of 1-meter RCA to 1/4-inch plug cables on Amazon for $6, and used the cable to hook up my Schiit Audio Bifrost digital converter to the D5s. One nitpick: I found the blue LED on the D5's front baffle annoyingly bright, but a small piece of black electrical tape easily corrected that problem.

Since the bass, midrange, and treble frequencies are all coming from a single-point source, the D5's stereo imaging is unusually clear. That was readily apparent with the very best audiophile recordings, like "The Invisible," the natural depth and spatial cue of the original recording venue were reconstructed by the D5s. The music almost sounded like it was in 3D!

Play a more typically compressed and processed recording, like the National's latest album, "Trouble Will Find Me," and it might sound pretty nasty. I don't blame the D5 for revealing the recording's harshness, but I can't recommend the D5 to anyone who listens to a lot of heavily compressed, contemporary music. A more "forgiving" speaker, such as the Audioengine A2 , would be a better choice.

The D5's connectivity suite requires the use of 1/4-inch plugs like the one I'm holding above the jack. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Bassist Rob Wasserman's "Solo" CD is just that -- just a solo bass, but when you play this recording over a great set of speakers, you feel like the instrument is in the room with you. The D5 captures the almost tactile sensation of Wasserman's fingers sliding over the strings. The little speakers' bass depth and power are hugely impressive for their size, especially when listening from three feet away.

Thom Yorke's other band, Atoms for Peace, has a new CD called "Amok," and it sounded great over the D5s, so I compared them with my reference Adam Audio F5 desktop monitors ($499 per pair). The F5s are sweeter but less immediate and more laid-back. The bass didn't reach as low -- it was less impacting. The D5s rocked with more gusto.

On jazz CDs, I noted drums and cymbals sound more transparent and natural with the F5s. The D5's lost detail and air, the difference was significant. On rock and electronica the speakers both sounded fine, even comparable, but on more acoustic oriented recordings I preferred the F5s.

The D5 is an attractive alternative, for $100 less, to the F5. Equator sells D5s for $399 a pair direct, with a 60-day home trial. Shipping in the U.S. is free.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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